Agenda and draft minutes

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 16th November, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Training Room, The Beehive Community Resource Centre, West Street, Grays, RM17 6XP

Contact: Lucy Tricker, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

13.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 237 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committeemeeting held on 7 September 2021.

Minutes:

The minutes of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 7 September 2021 were approved as a true and correct record.

14.

Items of Urgent Business

To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972. To agree any relevant briefing notes submitted to the Committee.

Minutes:

There were no items of urgent business.

15.

Declaration of Interests

Minutes:

Councillor John Kent declared a non-pecuniary interest as he worked for Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions, which was owned by Thurrock Council.

Councillor Carter declared a non-pecuniary interest as he also worked for Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions, which was owned by Thurrock Council.

16.

Medium Term Financial Strategy and Budget Proposals pdf icon PDF 380 KB

Minutes:

The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery introduced the report and stated that it provided an update on the financial situation of Thurrock Council. He explained that two reports had been presented to Cabinet in July and September that outlined potential savings, and a draft budget would be presented to Cabinet in January, before coming to the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee and returning to Cabinet and Council in February. He stated that the budget gap had been £34million over the next two years, but due to actions undertaken, the gap was now £3.9million. He highlighted section two of the report which outlined the Council’s financial base, and explained that Thurrock had one of the lowest council tax bases in the country, as 70% of properties were within Bands A-C. He mentioned that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council had a council tax base approximately £15million higher than Thurrock. He added that business rate collection had been impacted by COVID-19, and Thurrock could only keep 3% of business rates collected, the rest being given to central government for redistribution. The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery moved on and explained the CIPFA Resilience Index, which he felt was a useful tool to compare local authorities around the country. He explained that, according to the CIPFA Resilience Index, currently Thurrock’s Adult Social Care service were classified as ‘at risk’, due to the low council tax base and therefore comparatively low percentage spend on adult social care.

The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery highlighted the government’s comprehensive spending review which had occurred in October, and had stated that local authorities would receive a funding increase of 5.4% from central government. He explained that this increase would be calculated from a re-based position, and therefore the percentage increase would not take into consideration funding that had been granted from central government for COVID. He added that a more detailed announcement from central government was expected on 15 December 2021, and the team would then work on identifying the impacts and implications for the Council. He stated that previously the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) had provided a three year funding settlement to local authorities, but they had recently indicated that the distribution of this funding would be changing, which created uncertainty for local councils.

The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery explained that the government had retained the council tax increase cap at 1.99%, but had granted an additional 1% adult social care precept increase. He explained that this would be voted on by all Members at the February Full Council meeting. He added that the government had also increased National Insurance contributions, which would go towards funding the NHS and social care. He explained that the Council’s National Insurance contribution would also increase by between £900,000 and £1million, but central government could reimburse this to the Council, although this could come out of additional funding.

The Corporate Director Resource and Place Delivery highlighted points 3.1 and 3.2 of the report and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 16.

17.

Report on Asset Related Savings pdf icon PDF 235 KB

Minutes:

The Chair stated that two members of the public wished to speak on this item. Mr Murray James read his statement: “Grays has been offered a once in a generation opportunity to connect the town with its Thames foreshore through the £20m Town Fund. This could unlock huge recreational potential on the river – potential that is also recognised by the Port of London Authority through its Active Thames programme which aims to increase participation in recreational activity along the full length of the river. Our stretch of the Thames has some unique advantages for sailing in particular, but strong tides, deep mud, and commercial shipping traffic mean it is a challenging area for novices. A degree of both competence and confidence are required to enjoy our waters safely. Grays is a coastal town with a proud maritime history and at Thurrock Yacht Club we firmly believe that we need to be putting a focus on maritime sports in an area that suffers from high levels of inactivity – a problem that members will know leads to a higher long term demand on scarce council and NHS resources. Thurrock is fortunate in that it already has a fantastic facility at Grangewaters. Following the winding down of sailing at Stubbers in Upminster, Grangewaters is now the only safe learning water within easy reach of Thurrock. It is also ideal as a feeder site for other aquatic sports that can transfer to the Thames including paddle sports and rowing. Our club is currently working with the team at Grangewaters to establish regular recreational sailing activities that span both their site and our established sailing area on the Grays waterfront. A joined up offer of this nature creates opportunity not only for the people of Thurrock – it will attract people to come from surrounding areas to regularly enjoy leisure time in our wonderful borough and prove that we are more than just a place to shop. We urge this committee to do everything within their remit to ensure the full long term financial impacts of disposing of Grangewaters are fully explored before any decisions are made, including its important role in ensuring the Grays Town fund project does not leave Thurrock stranded with a new generation of unproductive public assets. Grangewaters is more than a cherished community asset – it is a vital enabler for bringing recreation to the Thames.”

The Chair thanked Mr James for his statement and asked if Grangewaters was listed as an Asset of Community Value. She also asked how many members Thurrock Yacht Club currently had. Mr James replied that Grangewaters was listed as an Asset of Community Value. He explained that membership of the Yacht Club had been growing rapidly due to the closure of Stubbers in Upminster. He stated that there were currently 130 members from across Thurrock, Havering and Brentwood. He added that the Club had also recently been gifted numerous dinghies to ensure that sailing and river activities remained accessible and affordable for  ...  view the full minutes text for item 17.

18.

Local Council Tax Scheme pdf icon PDF 328 KB

Minutes:

The Strategic Lead Revenue and Benefits introduced the report and stated that it set out the Council’s annual obligation to consider its Local Council Tax Support Scheme (LCTS) for working age people. He explained that the report recommended that the current scheme for working age people remain unchanged for the forthcoming financial year. He stated that this would enable an ongoing, accessible means tested assessment process, which currently saw high collection rates and low complaints. He commented that the recommendation had been made in view of the ongoing difficulties lower income households could face following COVID-19, and provided consistency by maintaining current support levels. He summarised and stated that the Council was required to consider the LCTS annually, and the scheme would continue to be considered in future years when the situation regarding COVID had stabilised, and future demand and supply could be more confidently assessed.

The Chair thanked the Strategic Lead Revenue and Benefits for his work on the report and asked if there were any risks associated with the scheme remaining the same. The Strategic Lead Revenue and Benefits replied that there was a risk at the current time in claimant numbers and the cost of the scheme rising, however the team felt that maintaining the current scheme would be the better option, rather than implementing changes with no real insight on the impact. Councillor Okunade highlighted point 3.2 on page 37 of the agenda and asked if the increased numbers of people receiving Universal Credit had affected the number of people receiving LCTS. The Strategic Lead Revenue and Benefits replied that no impact had been seen to date. He stated that the claim process had been streamlined for residents who applied for Universal Credit and also wished to claim Council Tax Support. Councillor Halden thanked the Strategic Lead Revenue and Benefits and his team for their hard work in ensuring that collections were compassionately collected and vulnerable residents were supported.  

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Noted the analysis of the current scheme.
2. Supported the recommendation that the current scheme remains unchanged for 2022/23.

19.

Quarter 2 (April to September 2021) Corporate Performance Report 2021/22 pdf icon PDF 497 KB

Minutes:

The Strategy Manager introduced the report and stated that it provided an update on the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) from April to September 2021, which included the period when the UK was moving out of COVID-19 lockdown. She stated that at the end of September 71% of KPIs had met their target, and 60% were better than the previous year. She stated that questions that had been raised by the Committee at the previous meeting had been included at point 3.6 of the report.

Councillor Okunade thanked the team for their hard work in meeting the targets, and highlighted page 48 of the report and the KPI relating to older people still at home91 days after discharge from hospital into reablement or rehabilitation. She asked how this KPI was calculated and specifically why the commentary stated that five people were in hospital, which seemed to contradict the definition. The Strategy Manager replied that the indicator included people who had been readmitted to a hospital within three months after returning home, not necessarily for the same reason for which they were initially in hospital. She explained that the definition for this KPI was nationally set. Councillor Okunade moved on and highlighted page 51 of the report and the KPI relating to the turnaround and re-let time for properties. She felt that Thurrock had an issue with homelessness and should be reducing the turnaround time to ensure all residents had a safe place to stay. She asked what incentives were being utilised to get residents into these houses. The Assistant Director Housing replied that the housing team worked closely with other teams to incentivise people to bid for certain houses, and ensured that people lived well together. She stated that the majority of hard to let properties had now been filled, so the KPI was on track to meet its target during the next quarter.

Councillor Hebb arrived 8.42pm

Councillor Halden highlighted page 53 of the report and the KPI relating to the number of children receiving initial health assessments within 28 days. He stated that this KPI had reduced from 80% to 61% of children receiving these assessments due to families not consenting and/or procedural delays. He asked for clarification on the percentage of these cases not receiving an initial health assessment for the latter reason compared to the former, and more information on what was being done to improve this. The Strategy Manager stated that she would liaise with colleagues in Children’s Services to reply in writing.

Councillor Kent thanked the Strategy Manager for the responses to the questions asked by the Committee, outlined on page 57. He highlighted the KPI relating to new homes built this year and stated that only 195 new homes and been built last year, and felt this should be higher. He also stated that the KPI relating to the payment of fixed penalty notices should be improving and asked to see a clear action plan put in place to ensure it met its target  ...  view the full minutes text for item 19.

20.

Fair Debt Update pdf icon PDF 246 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Strategic Lead Revenue and Benefits introduced the report and stated that it provided an update to the Committee on the enhancements and initiatives that had been delivered within the Debt Recovery Service, following an external review in 2017 and the Fair Debt Summit in 2018. He stated that work on the project was ongoing, and although much of this development work had paused last year due to COVID-19, progress had continued to be made. He stated that the report outlined the Single View of Debtor, which brought together information from multiple systems on amounts owing to the Council and potential vulnerability. He explained that the report also discussed financial inclusion, which provided additional dedicated officer support to people in extreme circumstances, to ensure they could access the relevant available support. He stated that the team had also adopted breathing space legislation, which provided a pause in recovery action to enable organisations assisting people with their finances time to identify a resolution. He explained that the team were now focussed on early resolution through delivery of effective communications, including delivering the right message, in the right way, at the right time.

The Strategic Lead Revenue and Benefits stated that the report also provided a summary of how the service tailored its approach to provide additional support to residents and businesses throughout the pandemic, whilst maintaining high collection rates. He stated that appendix 1 included the draft Fair Debt Policy, which had been developed in collaboration with Fair Debt Summit attendees and supported an enhanced approach to ensure that those who couldn’t pay were assisted in gaining appropriate support, and those who deliberately avoided payment were brought to justice using all legislative means available.

Councillor Okunade asked how the team differentiated between those residents who couldn’t pay and those who refused to pay. The Strategic Lead Revenue and Benefits replied that the system currently relied on residents contacting the team, but the Single View of Debtor, which was currently in beta, provided an outline of people’s ability to pay, which improved the teams’ ability to appropriately intervene. Councillor Halden felt it was a good piece of work and was pleased to see the team differentiating the approach between compassion and justice. He highlighted point 5.2 on page 65 of the agenda and stated that the Council currently had £1mn of unpaid debts from residents who refused to pay. He queried how many people were included in this figure. The Strategic Lead Revenue and Benefits replied that approximately 200 people owed £1mn of unpaid debts, most of which was long-term outstanding debt. He stated that the team were currently implementing an enforcement plan that took these people to magistrate’s court to undergo a means inquiry. He stated that if they were found to have the means to pay, but still refused then they could be sent to prison for up to sixty days. He explained that the team were building the capacity to do this by recruiting one fixed tem post, which  ...  view the full minutes text for item 20.

21.

Thurrock's Scrutiny Review: An Update pdf icon PDF 222 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Senior Democratic Services Officer introduced the report and stated that it provided an update on the Scrutiny Review that had been agreed by the Committee and Cabinet in November 2020. She explained that the report outlined each of the recommendations and the work that had been undertaken to implement these, as well as actions still outstanding. She stated that some scrutiny Committees had adopted some of the recommendations, and some scrutiny Committees had adopted other recommendations, but due to the nature of the review this was to be expected. She summarised and stated that due to the cultural changes required within the review, work was still ongoing on the implementation process, and would continue over the coming year.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Commented on the implementation of the review recommendations thus far, as outlined in Appendix 1.

 

22.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 256 KB

Minutes:

The Chair explained that Councillor Coxshall would be invited to the next meeting to provide an update on his Portfolio. She added that Councillor Hebb would also be invited to the meeting in March to provide an update regarding Fair Debt.